I hear the same surprise and concern from people when their fig trees produce figs before the leaves. To be honest, it’s actually not that rare to see. There are several reasons why this could happen, some are completely normal, and some are signs that your fig tree needs extra care.
Fig tree normally produces main crop fruit after the leaves. However, figs can produce breba crops before leaves appear in spring. In addition, main crop figs can be produced before leaves if there is something wrong with the tree, but figs won’t ripen in that case.
Let’s explain what breba figs are and what exactly can go wrong with the tree to start producing its main crop before leaves grow.
What Are Breba Figs and Why They Sometimes Grow Before Leaves?
Breba figs are the first crop of the season. However, not all fig trees can produce them. They grow on the branches which developed during late summer or early autumn of the previous year.
Those branches and growth shoots developed after the main crop has almost ripened. A fig tree continues growing because it does not know if cold months are ahead.
Normally, the breba crop doesn’t develop if it’s too cold or too hot in winter. However, fig trees get just enough cold to go into dormancy in average climates. However, they do not freeze. The buds from which leaves fall off survive until the spring.
Buds from which leaves fell off in autumn start pushing out the first crop of the year called brebas.
Sometimes breba figs grow before the leaves in spring because the fig tree focuses its energy on the fruit more than new growth. This is nothing to worry about. However, if it gets prolonged by a few months, adding nitrogen fertilizer will trigger the proper growth process.
Young Tree Producing Figs Before Leaves
In normal conditions, young trees grow for several years before the fruit appears.
However, I’ve had a situation where the fruit started growing in early spring in the third year. Even though figs can grow in the third year, they always grow after the leaves have fully formed because they are the main crop.
That year something triggered them very early. It’s difficult to say if figs formed before the leaves. I would say it happened simultaneously.
I’ve found that young trees can produce figs early because sometimes they have no energy to grow branches and leaves simultaneously as the fruit. 99.9% of the time, in a situation like this, the tree grows while the fruit is delayed until the next year. But sometimes, it gets reversed.
I’ve asked a local fig arborist about some details on fig crops, and she told me fig trees actually have three crops instead of two. Although, only two can happen on the same tree.
The third, called the winter crop, is almost the same as the main crop but grows later. It’s rare, and it usually looks like a part of the main crop failed to ripen on time and gets rejected because a fig tree goes into dormancy.
If the tree is well isolated from winter chills but still goes into partial dormancy, figs from the third crop can survive deep into the winter and ripen after the leaves drop.
Fig trees require nitrogen to grow branches and leaves. Leaves themselves don’t really require much nitrogen, but if you look at how they grow, you will notice that most new leaves are spawned from branch tips.
If the branch doesn’t grow, the leaves will appear very late into the season.
Figs, on the other hand, don’t require nitrogen to grow. If there is enough of all other nutrients, the fruit can develop before the leaves. These figs won’t ripen because the tree’s growth is so crippled that it can’t transfer nutrients to the fruit well enough.
It’s a rare occasion because it happens a bit later into the season, by which time most people have already fertilized the tree.
I’ve only seen this situation happen several times on trees that were neglected for years.
Some beetles love to destroy leaf buds. Although, I’ve never heard beetles or any other pests stripping the whole tree of leaf buds.
It can, however, happen on a single branch. Figs can still grow from branch eyelets, but there won’t be any leaves.
Some people mistake those branches for dead wood and prune them off. It’s a mistake because, in my experience, these branches will produce equally good figs as the ones with leaves.
To conclude, figs growing before the leaves are almost always breba figs. They can appear well before leaves on some fig tree varieties.
Other reasons for figs to grow before leaves are very rare and situational. Unless you are 100% sure your figs are not of breba crop, you could look into other options. Most likely alternative reasons are lack of nitrogen fertilizer, or pests destroying leaf buds.